Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: Re-signing Steven Stamkos makes it a great day

The greatest day in Tampa Bay Lightning history is June 7, 2004. That's the day the Lightning won the Stanley Cup.

Wednesday now goes down as the second-best day in franchise history.

He's staying.

Call it Tampa Bay's "Miracle on Ice.'' Steven Stamkos isn't going anywhere.

Wow.

The Lightning's superstar, captain and leading goal-scorer stunned the hockey world Wednesday. Less than two days away from becoming perhaps the biggest free agent in NHL history, Stamkos decided that there's no place like home.

And make no mistake, home is Tampa Bay.

Not Toronto. Not Detroit. Not Buffalo.

Here. Tampa Bay. The Lightning.

Because of that, the Lightning's window for winning a Stanley Cup remains very much open. Get excited, Lightning fans, your hockey team remains one of the best in the NHL.

All it took was a stroke of the pen, $68 million and a surprising turn of events.

It seemed as if Stamkos was gone for sure. A year ago at this time, general manager Steve Yzerman said signing Stamkos was his top priority. But July became August, and August became Christmas, and Christmas turned into March, and Stamkos remained unsigned.

The playoffs came and went, mostly without Stamkos, sidelined by a blood clot. If he hadn't re-signed with Tampa Bay by the end of the season, why would he do it on the verge of free agency? And you wondered if the Lightning was ready to say goodbye anyway.

Rumors swirled.

He would go back to his hometown, Toronto, and lead the Maple Leafs to their first Cup in 50 years.

He would go to Buffalo, which was ready to back up a Brink's truck to his front porch.

He would go to Detroit and take over a tradition-rich Red Wings team that was one Stamkos short of being a Cup contender again.

Or maybe a wild-card team was out there willing to throw the sun and the moon and a right arm to have a No. 91 to call their own.

But in the end, the Lightning got its man, the man got his money, and most of all, both showed their commitment to winning a Stanley Cup.

That's what Wednesday was all about: a commitment to winning. By Stamkos and by the Lightning.

"Stammer's decision will go a long way for setting the tone for what this organization is all about,'' Yzerman said. "We both wanted this to happen.''

Stamkos assuredly could have gotten more money somewhere else. Not that the eight-year, $68 million contract he did get from Tampa Bay is anything to sneeze at. But by re-signing with Tampa Bay, Stamkos showed it wasn't all about dollars and cents and more dollars.

A lot of factors probably went into Stamkos' decision.

Maybe he's just comfortable in Tampa Bay. Who wouldn't be? We all know what a great place this is. Lots of sunshine, lots of sand, lots of fairways, and all the things we don't have to worry about: snow shovels, ice scrapers and state income taxes.

Maybe he didn't want to live in the fishbowl of Toronto, under constant media scrutiny, under constant attention whether he was playing hockey, having a burger and a beer, or walking his dog.

Maybe he didn't want to start over with a loser team like Buffalo and again suffer through the growing pains of an up-and-coming franchise, like he did for half his time in Tampa Bay.

Maybe he realized that the slight difference in money he would get somewhere else wasn't worth the trouble of packing up his stuff and moving to a place like Detroit.

But maybe — and this is what it seems like — the overriding factor was that Stamkos wants to finish what he started by bringing a Stanley Cup to Tampa Bay. Of all the teams that were rumored to be interested in his services, the Lightning has the best chance of winning a championship.

And if winning is what matters most to Stamkos — and I believe it was — then the Lightning most definitely has the right man wearing the captain's C.

"He's very loyal,'' Yzerman said. "He's an independent thinker and can make a very difficult decision. He wants to win. That's his No. 1 priority.''

As far as the Lightning, give Yzerman credit for recognizing that the Lightning is way better off with Stamkos than without him, even if it costs the franchise $8.5 million a year, even if it means parting ways with a couple of familiar faces down the line.

The re-signing of Stamkos means Yzerman's work is just beginning. It won't be easy keeping the band together. Tough choices and shrewd deals must be made. Other players need to be re-signed. Other stars need to be kept.

The next big contract? Victor Hedman. After that, Nikita Kucherov. Because of all that, Yzerman sooner rather than later likely will have to trade goalie Ben Bishop. Eventually, decisions will need to be made about others, such as Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and, further down the line, Jonathan Drouin.

But that's for another day.

Right now this is about the Lightning doing whatever it could to keep perhaps the greatest player in franchise history. It was about a team and its superstar showing each other and their fans that they are committed to winning.

Remember the old "Seen Stamkos" ads?

All you have to do to see him is go to Amalie Arena. In Tampa.

The home of Steven Stamkos.

     
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